Husk, Zilpha (unknown–unknown)

By: Mary M. Standifer

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: November 9, 2020

Zilpha (Zelia, Zylphia) Husk, a free Black woman who resided in Houston during the period of the Republic of Texas, was born in Richmond County, Georgia. Her freedom was certified by the circuit court of Autauga County, Alabama, in November 1837. That same month her daughter Emily was apprenticed to George B. McLeskey in Montgomery, Alabama. By 1838 Husk was living in Houston, where in 1839 she received the revocation of Emily's apprenticeship from McLeskey, who then resided in Washington County.

Her residence in Texas was jeopardized by a bill approved on February 5, 1840, requiring all free Blacks to leave Texas by January 1, 1842. When Congress reconvened in November 1840 it was deluged by petitions from free Blacks seeking permission to remain. Among these petitions was one from Husk, endorsed by forty-one Houstonians. She stated that she had arrived in Texas in 1835 and that she worked as a washerwoman. Her plea was approved in consequence of a new law, enacted on December 12, 1840, granting the right of residency to "all free persons of color together with their families" who resided in Texas before the Texas Declaration of Independence (March 2, 1836). Husk subsequently learned, however, that she had actually arrived in Texas after March 2 and therefore was not exempted from the expulsion law of February 5, 1840. She consequently petitioned Congress again in December 1841, offering the signatures of fifty endorsers. This petition, along with those of four other free Blacks, was apparently tabled after a House committee recommended their indefinite postponement. Altogether, she submitted three petitions to Congress; the third is undated.

Under the terms of two presidential proclamations later issued by Sam Houston, African Americans in Husk's position were allowed to remain three years beyond the 1842 deadline, provided they petition the chief justice of their county court and post a $500 bond. Although Husk apparently did not meet these requirements, she seems not to have been prosecuted. Indeed, the Harris County chief justice, Isaac N. Moreland, had previously signed her petitions to Congress. Husk was still residing in Houston in 1849, when the Harris County grand jury indicted her and Edmund Mitchell, a White man, for fornication. A petit jury found Mitchell not guilty, and the case against Zilpha Husk was subsequently dropped.

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Andrew Forest Muir, "The Free Negro in Harris County, Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 46 (January 1943). Harold Schoen, "The Free Negro in the Republic of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 39–41 (April 1936-July 1937).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Women
  • Slaves, Freedmen, and Free Blacks
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary M. Standifer, “Husk, Zilpha,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 13, 2022,

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February 1, 1995
November 9, 2020

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